All 1 Debates between Lord Krebs and Lord Chidgey

Mon 12th Jul 2021

Environment Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Chidgey
Lord Chidgey Portrait Lord Chidgey (LD)
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My Lords, I speak in particular to Amendments 234 and 241 in my name. The Government have shown a commitment to tackling the issue of the poor quality of our rivers and freshwater environment. Issues around pollution and declining freshwater biodiversity have been a constant refrain in the media for some time. Freshwater species have declined by 88% since 1970—a greater decline than seen for species in forests or oceans—and one-third of freshwater fish species faces extinction. England is the home of 85% of the world’s chalk streams; we have a global responsibility to protect these ecosystems.

Species conservation strategies can potentially play an important role in conservation, although there is a call to avoid them becoming a default setting for managing the impact of development on nature. The purpose of “must” instead of “may” in this amendment is to strengthen the clause and to underpin the requirement for a conservation strategy for improving the conservation of species. This is not intended to mean all species, but those whose conservation is probably most at risk; for example, salmon and sea trout, where it is thought that there is not as yet a clear conservation plan in place. There is a range of plans, such as the Environment Agency’s salmon five-point plan, but these have not led to any meaningful action in terms of the broad threats in our rivers and coastal waters.

Amendment 241 aims to create a new designation of protection for chalk streams. This analysis has been prepared with the assistance of experts from the Angling Trust and the Catchment Based Approach—CaBA—a restoration group under the chairmanship of Charles Rangeley-Wilson. It is preparing a report to government on the need for restoration and greater protection of chalk streams in England: the chalk stream restoration strategy. This group, made up of representatives from water companies, conservation NGOs and statutory agencies, including Natural England and the Environment Agency, will publish the chalk stream restoration strategy in September. The report will make a series of recommendations, looking at the three elements that make up action to restore our chalk streams to a near-natural state: action to reduce and mitigate the impact of overabstraction, to reduce pollution and improve water quality, and to restore the habitats and ecological functioning of chalk streams. The report is currently out for public consultation.

The first recommendation of the report is supported by all the companies and agencies involved in the report’s production and from stakeholders’ responses. This recommendation is for

“an overarching protection and priority status for chalk streams and their catchments to give them a distinct identity and to drive investment in water-resources infrastructure, water treatment and catchment-scale restoration”.

Currently, few chalk streams have protected site status. We have drivers, such as priority habitats status and the water framework directive but, thus far, these have failed to deliver enough improvements for chalk streams, principally because they lack statutory drivers for investment. Stakeholders are united in the view that there is a clear need for a status mechanism via designation, which can add impetus and drive investment across multiple policy levers. These include water company price review processes; ELMS local nature recovery and landscape recovery; local nature recovery strategies; biodiversity net gain; and protection through the planning process. A new designation should deliver an integrated approach to the protection of the chalk stream channel, its floodplain, surrounding catchment and aquifer, leading to nature and biodiversity recovery at the landscape level.

This amendment would require Natural England, along with Defra and the EA, to explore the appropriate mechanism for introducing a new category of protections, which may include the adaptation of application of an existing mechanism to protect chalk streams. In doing so it would consider including a statutory biodiversity target for chalk stream catchments in the Bill that would elevate the status of all chalk streams and provide long-term certainty about government ambition and commitment to protection and restoration. It would also consider a new form of designation or statutory protection for all chalk streams through a Green Paper on habitats regulation, and a stronger policy steer for chalk streams, for example through the ministerial guidance on river basin management plans and the strategic priorities statement to Ofwat.

Such a status for chalk streams would drive the investment and resources that have been severely lacking—not only for chalk streams, but, as the first report of 2020-21 from the Environment Audit Committee in the other place, Biodiversity in the UK: Boom or Bust, made clear, for the protection and advancement of biodiversity more broadly.

These are not exclusively chalk stream measures. Many other types of river and stream are also in great need of investment. An integrated approach to restoring all types of habitat and associated species through restoration of natural ecosystem function—particularly natural catchment function—will help to deliver multiple biodiversity benefits, alongside a wealth of natural capital associated with restored aquifer recharge, tackling pollution at source and natural flood management, to quote Natural England in 2018.

Nevertheless, the draft report argues that the global rarity of English chalk streams provides a potent justification for singling out this river type, among others. There are other justifications. One is the fact that chalk streams are under particular stress because they flow through a highly developed landscape. They have been particularly stressed by historic management and have distinct biodiversity, cultural and heritage value. For hydrological reasons, they are less capable of self-repair than higher-energy rivers.

There is also a common misconception that chalk streams exist only in the wealthier home counties of Hampshire and Berkshire. In fact, chalk streams are distributed from west Dorset to north-east Yorkshire, and many flow through less affluent parts of our landscape, and through numerous towns and cities, as well as the rural idylls most frequently depicted.

For example, the Eastleigh Angling Society has more than 850 members. Eastleigh, a constituency that I had the privilege to represent, owes its origins to railway development and manufacture, together with other heavy industry outlets. Yet the River Itchen flows through it. There are also several urban chalk streams, including the Wandle and Cray in Greater London. So I ask the Government to support these proposals for the designation of chalk streams. I beg to move.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and his eloquent advocacy for chalk streams. I will speak primarily to Amendment 235, in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The aim of our amendment is to ensure that the primary purpose of species conservation strategies is to support the recovery of nature rather than to facilitate development.

At first sight, Clause 102 looks very good. It requires Natural England to publish a strategy for improving the conservation status of any species. It must do this for a “strategy area”, which could be as large as the whole of England. The strategy has to spell out which habitat features are important for the species in question and how they may be improved. Natural England must also give an opinion on any consents or approvals that could adversely affect the conservation status of a species, as well as measures that could be taken to compensate for any adverse effects. Planning authorities must co-operate with Natural England in preparing and implementing any conservation strategy, and “have regard to” the strategy.